The new foundation for the Gilmore Block stopped the fire’s northerly advance along the shoreline. The Great Fire began on June 6, 1889.
Editor’s note: June 6, 2018 marks the 129th anniversary of the Great Fire. This article was originally published in 2015.
OF THE FEW PHOTOGRAPHS taken during the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, and the hundreds more recording the ruins, this one is not typical. Positioned far north of the more sensational ruins around Pioneer Square, the photographer looks south from the Front Street (First Avenue) boardwalk about 60 feet south of University Street. Although no caption accompanies the original print, the photographer would have surely known that “where the fire was stopped” would have been an appropriate description for it.
The most obvious ruin here is the north facade of the Northwest Cracker Company’s brick quarters, standing, somewhat, behind the leaning power pole. Johan Haglund (“Keep Clam” Ivar’s father) worked there. On the day of the fire, Haglund and his co-workers left before the destruction reached the cracker factory, which was located one lot south of Front and Seneca. Like many others, Haglund wound up on First Hill watching through the night as more than 30 blocks of Seattle were destroyed.
To this, the north side of the cracker factory, the fire’s rubble is mixed with generators of the Seattle Electric Light Company, which shared the corner of Front and Seneca streets with Puget Sound Ice Company. The scorched tree that rises to the scene’s center is a puzzle. Its crown was, it seems, merely scorched and not consumed. Perhaps it was this defiant tree that was most appealing to the photographer. Or was it, perhaps, the new foundation for the Gilmore Block (lower right), on which construction had recently begun. It was that foundation that stopped the fire’s northerly advance along the shoreline. Bucket brigades successfully doused the fire on Railroad Avenue where (here just out of frame to the right) its two railroad trestles crossed open water.
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On June 10, four days after the fire, The Post-Intelligencer reported that “slabs and sawdust are still burning and sending clouds of smoke over the town.” The following day the paper noted that “photos of the fire are already being sold on the street.”